Sana Hamelin, JD’12
What do a law degree, cats and cafes have to do with each other? Just ask Sana Hamelin, owner and founder of the Denver Cat Co.
“I am an actual crazy cat lady,” she laughs.
Hamelin, a JD’12 alumnae, has been able to combine the legal education she received at Denver Law and her interests into a successful business that is truly the cat’s meow.
From Firms to Felines
There was a point in time when Hamelin was all about the law. She immigrated to the states in 2004 from Pakistan and came to Denver in 2009. During her career, she had worked as a file clerk, a legal secretary and a paralegal, so the next logical step was to study law, and Denver Law became her destination.
“I had hit the peak of where I could go, and I had a good sense of what kind of career I wanted; I was extremely focused on being a litigator,” she relates. And that focus paid off. She threw herself into her studies and graduated third in her class at Denver Law and went on to work for two firms following graduation.
Hamelin relates that because of the conditions growing up in her native country, she was very determined to make a comfortable living and build a solid career, but at some point, while following her legal dreams, her focus shifted. While she found that she loved the writing and research aspect of law-firm life, she realized that she was a more social person and the long hours at the firms may not be the best fit for her. “Making a good living was not making me as happy as I thought,” she says. “I missed interacting with people, and I wanted to enjoy my 30s and make the best of every moment.” So, Hamelin took a bold step forward to embrace a new path and decided to leave the legal field.
She soon turned her focus to an innovative new concept that brought together two of her passions: meeting people and cats. Cat cafes started in Japan and the UK, but had not reached popularity in the United States when Hamelin decided to bring one to Denver in 2014
“I just had this concept. To me it sounded like the best idea ever,” she says.
Drawing on Experience
Hamelin had never run a business before, she was introducing an untested model and she was young, all of which she found put up walls to finding the right space and getting funding.
Though she left her practice days behind, the lawyer in her remained. “Law school is a life-changing event. You never stop being a lawyer once you are a lawyer. The law school skill set is really transferable,” she relates. The linear, realistic thinking, confidence and drive she honed during her legal education was a successful complement to her entrepreneurial spirit.
“Not one person took me seriously, but if you’re a lawyer, you learn how to navigate. I never felt like I couldn’t figure this out. It never occurred to me to doubt myself.”
Her legal education helped her form an entity, learn tax rules and regulations and simply understand how to dig in and research what she needed to get the business off the ground. Her experience also translated into holding her own in meetings and kept her from having to hire a lawyer of her own to handle certain issues.
She opened the doors of the Denver Cat Company in December of 2015 and has never looked back.
Finding a Fit
“I’ve never regretted going to law school,” she says, “I’ve accepted that life sometimes takes you unexpected places, and that’s okay.”
She does suggest that law students get out and network, participate in internships and try new things to make the career choices that will complement their personality. “You’re more receptive to info if you have an open mind. It can lead to unexpected things if you just listen and explore. It will really help you be happier at work.”
And for Hamelin, she has found what fulfills her life and career goals.
Today, the Denver Cat Company is more successful than ever. It’s approaching its third year of business and is a place to interact with cats, enjoy a beverage or take an art or yoga class. It draws everyone from cat lovers and those who just need a furry pick-me-up to tourists and people simply curious with the concept.
Visitors are asked to pay a small fee when they enter, to help cover the costs of caring for the animals, and then can spend all the time they want with the cats.
“Where else can you go and hang out with furry, cuddly animals?” she asks.
Hamelin also works with several adoption services and says that about two or three cats are adopted into good homes weekly. Several hundred cats have been adopted from the Denver Cat Company since its inception. In addition, as she was a groundbreaker on the trend, she consults to help get other cat cafés up and running across the nation.
“I’m happy this has been going well,” she says. “It’s been a ride.”
The Denver Cat Company is open 7 days a week at 10 a.m. Visit it at 3929 Tennyson Street.
Past Alumni Spotlights: